Last week fall was officially ushered in, even as summer is having a hard time closing the door on its way out.
At exactly 11:09 p.m. Sept. 22, the autumnal equinox occurred, yet the next two days saw temperatures in the high 80s during the day and 60s at night. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, our average frost date for northeast Ohio is Sept. 20. We are overdue, so don't be surprised when you check the forecast any day now and hear there is a frost expected.
We still haven't brought inside our plants that won't be able to withstand winter cold. These include a large bay shrub, a Norfolk Island Pine that is taller than I am and a several-year-old Epiphyllum oxypetalum (mistakenly but commonly called night blooming cereus and orchid cactus), that has yet to bloom. But we monitor temperature reports every day to make sure we don't inadvertently leave plants outside that might otherwise succumb to those upcoming cold nights.
This was an interesting summer. While tomatoes had problems last year with lower-than-normal night temperatures and an epidemic of late blight, this year saw a bounty of tomatoes. Not only did our garden do well, but many of our friends have reported more tomatoes than they can handle. Even though we had a late planting, high temperatures this summer have produced a tomato bounty.
So much so that when I delivered tomatoes to my non-gardening friends over the past month, I was often met with a chuckle and a sideways glance to bowls of red fruit on their counters indicating gifts from other gardening friends. This season, tomatoes are the new zucchini.
Zucchini, on the other hand, did not do well in our garden. Plants produced well at the beginning, but were quickly cut down by borers and wilt disease, long before I even had a chance to make a batch of chocolate chip zucchini bread for holiday giving. I hope those potential recipients won't be too disappointed.
Like zucchini, cucumbers didn't produce well in our garden this year either. Green and hot peppers did, however, as did green beans and eggplant.
But now fall is upon us and we are starting to think about how to prepare for the long, cold season ahead.
Successive plantings of spinach will ensure a bountiful harvest early in April when we are still barely able to get into the garden to plant much else. Spinach winters over wonderfully and makes a great early spring salad or crunchy add-on in place of lettuce on our turkey sandwiches.
Our list of garden jobs for October include, of all things, viburnum beetle patrol. You may remember my rants in late spring about this previously unknown pest to our area that without warning nearly took down one of my prized landscape shrubs, a common snowball viburnum.
After it was attacked by larvae that obviously without my knowledge had overwintered on my plant only to emerge and complete defoliate it by the end of May, it tried to come back by reproducing tender new leaves. But before it had a chance to recover from the larval attack, the offspring pupated underground and emerged as adult beetles to once again strip the plant clean.
After a heavy pruning in early summer, we were surprised to see the shrub leaf out a third time in an attempt to survive.
Now we are ready. We can try to avoid another infestation next season by looking for those now-familiar wintering-over sites on the undersides of the branches, which look like sewing stitches. These are the holes burrowed into the wood by adult beetles where they lay their eggs and then cover them with a chewed up mash of sawdust.
Pruning and destroying these infested branches will thwart an onslaught of larvae next spring.